A decade ago, a young student in Ngiriambu Girls’ High School in Kirinyaga district was looking for an adrenaline fix. Throughout high school, she had pretty much tried everything, most recently a stint in the basketball team that did not end well.
After four years, she still hadn’t broken through to the first team. Or even the second. She was still fighting for a spot among the reserves. Being a girls’ school, popularity was paramount. And it didn’t come to those who were not part of the first team.
So Angel Waruinge decided to change tack and look for another co-curricular activity. Drama club was a good alternative.
“Not once had I ever thought of becoming an actor. But my time in school was coming to an end, and the drama club was the only place I was assured of getting regular out-of-school trips,” she said in an interview with Lifestyle.
Angel is now one of the nation’s top television personalities, being a leading actress in the high school drama Tahidi High that airs on Citizen TV.
One day, during a visit to a neighbouring school for the Kirinyaga district drama festival she found herself so captivated by a play that after the performance she went backstage seeking to know the brains behind the masterpiece.
“I told the director I liked it but that I could have acted the lead role much better,” she said. “It may have come out rude or arrogant but that is what I felt at that time.”
A decade later Angel has matured into one of the best known actresses in the country through a role she has had for the past three years. Many are those who call her by her stage name Miss Morgan, a character she has played since 2007.
“In a way, I can say Miss Morgan was my break-out role. After that, recognition has come my way,” she said.
Seated in a restaurant patronised by a rather “artsy” crowd of women and men with glazed eyes, she easily stands out. On the table is a bottle of Fanta, she is at ease on the high-back bar stool. Her gaze is unrelenting.
“I owe my role in the programme to my physique,” she said as she narrated how she landed the role that changed her world and convinced her that acting was the only thing she would be doing.
After her ‘O’ level exams in 2000, Angel tried to reach out to the drama teacher she had approached months earlier but he did not remember her.
Quite an impression
“I thought I had made quite an impression on him but I was wrong. I, however, explained who I was and he accepted to have me around the set of a play he was directing at Alliance Française.”
Initially, she did not have a role. Her day at the auditorium was spent of carrying props around.
“But, once in a while, I got to the set earlier than everyone else and rehearsed the lead actress’s lines in front of a mirror. I’d laugh the way she did, roll my eyes as she did on stage. The only difference was that I had no audience,” she said.
The gods smiled down upon her one day when she read on the Alliance notice board that an agency was looking for people to cast in a beer commercial. “I decided to try it out just for fun,” she said.
She made her way to the Kenya National Theatre, the venue of the casting auditioned and forgot about it.
“It never lingered on my mind. I went back to stage management,” she said.
But, a few weeks later, she got a call announcing that she had been short-listed as possible candidates for the commercial.
“The casting agencies wanted me to go in for another meeting.”
But there was a problem: her age. The advertisement said the casting agency needed someone who was over 22 years but she was 18. She had to fake it.
“I looked them straight in the face and said I was 23. They either believed me or just didn’t care,” she said.
She landed a part in the commercial and featured on billboards.
Then small screen roles started trickling in.
“It has been a blessing and a joy to live this kind of life,” she said, cracking her fingers. Nothing about them points to a manicure. Her nails are plain and fingers unremarkable.
For the camera
On the day of the interview, the only sign of make-up on her face is lip gloss, which she periodically applied for the camera.
As the interview progressed, other well-known TV personalities would come by and pay homage to her. A hug here, a kiss there and a wave from across the room. Walking the streets, this is the kind of reception she gets.
Everyone seems to know her. At times, she finds it difficult to separate Angel from Miss Morgan.
“When you play a role long enough, the line between the character and the person starts becoming blurred and eventually fades away. At times I can’t tell the two apart,” she said.
In 2007 she appeared in a low- budget HIV/Aids awareness film with Tahidi High co-creator Naomi Kamau.
“She casually mentioned to me that she was introducing a new character in the programme and she would want me to audition for it,” Angel recalled.
Ideally, the character was to be a full-figured, no-nonsense woman. She auditioned and got the part and has been living the role on and off screen.
At times, it takes another person to tell her that she is acting like Miss Morgan in a setting that requires a less sterner reaction to a situation.
Is this the pinnacle of her career?
“No it’s not. Although I have been nominated for acting awards before, including this year’s Kalasha Awards, I know I still have a long way to go. With the kind of exposure that Tahidi High gives me week in week out, I am destined for bigger things,” she said.
She missed out on the Kalasha for the Best Actress. It went to Elizabeth Wanjiru Bageine, the pesky mother-in-law from the aptly titled TV series, Mother-in-Law.
“Not winning the award does not mean I am not good enough as an actor. Plus it just gives me the desire to work harder next year,” she said.
Other nominees in the category included Nice Githinji from NTV’s Guy Center, and Renee Sewe from KTN’s Changing Times.
Amidst the fame that may follow her around, she maintains that deep down she is a simple traditional woman in search of the right man with whom she will have six children “just because I love kids.”
“After the fame, the glory and the energy to run around TV sets evaporate, I would love to have a family to go back to and lead a quiet life,” she said.
But, before she settles down, the 26-year-old woman still has a few things on her To-do list that she needs to check off.
First, she needs to deal with the criticism that comes her way from all quarters.
“I’m an easy target because many think I am at my prime. I take constructive criticism well. The rest is just hating that I let bounce off me and move on,” she said.
Second, she hopes to appear in a Nollywood production and arrangements are being made for that.
Third, she hopes to act side-by-side with some Hollywood legends such as Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington.
And finally, she needs to iron out the logistics for opening her own company to help talented children from marginalised communities get a foot into the high-risk, high-reward industry that is acting.
After accomplishing some of these things, then she will look for the man who would give her little bundles of joy.